Three years after Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination, the Saudi royal court adviser accused of directing the murder is quietly reintroduced by pro-government influencers as a patriotic figure who has served his country well.
Social media Testimonies supporting Saudi leaders have published tributes in recent months to Saud al-Qahtani, one of the main aides to the crown prince and effective ruler of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, in a move that is considered significant. its gradual return to the Saudi seat of power. Qahtani disappeared from public view following the gruesome Istanbul murder that shocked the world and nearly derailed his boss’s path to the throne.
Bin Salman’s close friend was also seen at the royal court, from where he is accused of plotting one of the most brutal assassinations in modern history inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which was captured in graphic detail on listening devices planted by Turkish spies. “He looks very nervous, almost paranoid,” said an official who saw Qahtani. “He always tries to keep a low profile. “
Reports of Qahtani’s re-emergence come as Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund formally takes control of Newcastle United football club after finalizing a controversial buyout deal fiercely opposed by human rights groups. The £ 300million deal is the country’s first major acquisition from a foreign team and the biggest foray into global sport to date.
Qahtani’s whereabouts have been the subject of intense speculation since he disappeared in late 2018. The CIA and MI6 both believe he was the central figure in the plot that saw Khashoggi, a former insider. of the royal court turned critic, massacred inside the consulate by a team of government hired killers whom he is accused of having assembled.
His reported sighting and growing mentions on social media accounts that support bin Salman appear to be signs officials feel safe enough to risk re-reinstating him into the heart of government – a move the United States is making. ‘will almost certainly oppose, which took a new interest in the death of Khashoggi after the inauguration of Joe Biden as president.
A series of posts supporting Qahtani on social media began appearing in May of this year from accounts that support the Saudi government. The messages became more frequent in July and August and have continued since. All praise Qahtani as a “hero”, “patriot” or “leader”. Many articles included photo tributes, while others featured videos featuring him with Prince Mohammed.
Posts have many characteristics of a concerted campaign, which for such a figure in Saudi Arabia’s tightly controlled media environment would not be possible without the sanction of top leadership.
“There is no doubt that Qahtani is back,” said a senior Gulf official. “The question is, has he ever really left? “
While it is not clear whether Saudi leaders plan to publicly resettle Qahtani as an aide, his reappearance is sure to raise questions from the Biden administration, which ousted bin Salman and left him. accused of harboring Khashoggi’s main assassins, including Qahtani, whom US officials have called a ringleader.
In 2019, a Saudi court cleared Qahtani of any charges related to the assassination. Five other members of the contract killers were sentenced to death and four others to prison terms of 24 years. However, officials in the US, UK and Europe have since called the sentences a mockery. The president of Amnesty International, Agnès Callamard, described these sentences as “antithesis of justice”.
Saud al-Qahtani had been a central figure in bin Salman’s rapid rise and had helped cement his authority at every step. He had gathered the kingdom’s cybersecurity and hacking capabilities and was said to have been physically present during at least one rendition of a Saudi citizen of Europe.
He is also said to have played a central role in each of the episodes that won the infamy of the new leadership, including the roundup and detention of business figures, the hack into the cell phone of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, and a directive. aiming to hack two Guardian journalists in 2019. He is also accused of interrogating and threatening Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul in 2018.